Day 23: Layers toward Hope
I finally got to read Imani Perry’s weekly newsletter, Unsettled Territory, with an eye-catching title for me, Rodney King, 30 Years Later. I was returned viscerally to my 1991-self, living in Los Angeles area with four other women on Electric Avenue (Yes, really…the song played on our answering machine). Roommate Edie had communicated with us via house phone that she was safe, leaving her LA courthouse jury assignment (other than King's). We didn't know at the time why she was calling. On a whim, I called my folks back home to say all was well, never imagining the news was big enough to concern them in Ohio. Except then I heard from a college roommate teaching English in China, checking in to see if I was okay. Big news, and these days, even more of a concern in Ohio.
Perry’s last sentence erupted in me as a belly sob. I let the tears come in me, feeling all of what my own white body feels in the face of such storying. I invite you to read her post, her own craft that brings a juxtaposition of a numbing, legalese-oriented professor with a collective lament yet in irrepressible hope. Especially poignant in the face of seemingly unstoppable violence against black bodies in the States today.
In contrast to other posts, this one has been through three drafts, charting an unintentional but necessary pathway of observation and (I hope) deepening awareness for Good. The first draft highlighted Perry’s words, in readback lines that I found most powerful. She’s a Princeton University professor and author of several books, the most recent being South to America: a Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation: "a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes." I simply wanted to highlight her voice, but it dawned on me I was silent about my own experience.
So the second draft moved my own visceral reaction into questions of collective grief. I was startled by my own body’s visceral tears. Would other white bodies feel it as viscerally as I had? I'll guess that many numbed Americans today would see only a political trope with no real skills to feel first, rationalize later. When will the pain of being human in a body of color in the States today become pain for all of us, such that we collectively do better? Can it? Should it become pain for us all?
This draft moved me to wonder at the capacity for irrepressible hope that Perry demonstrates, in her own grief and artistry. I am thankful to have been moved to tears by her words. I have a vested interest in un-numbing myself, and all those around me, to pains that are not ‘mine’ but are somehow ‘ours.’ In the end, I bow deeply to irrepressible Hope, to join her in the fierce, persistent, sometimes joyful work it requires. (With a nod to Dr. C. Anthony Hunt as well).